- This wholly new party was born in the fall of 1993, when Silvio Berlusconi ordered his marketing strategists to prepare his entry into politics. In December 1993, thousands of Forza Italia “clubs” were begun in cities and towns all over the country. Some 15,000 groups had been formed by the end of January 1994, when Berlusconi officially announced his intention to run for Parliament. Berlusconi was well aware that the “clubs” did not constitute a genuine party organization. He accordingly allied his new movement, and his three national television networks, with the Lega Nord/ Northern League (LN) in the so-called Liberty Pole alliance (Polo delle liberta) and with the Alleanza Nazionale/National Alliance (AN) in the “Good Government Pole” (Polo del buon governo) in electoral districts in southern Italy. Two smaller parties, the Unione di Centro/Center Union (UDC) and the Centro Cristiano Democratico/Christian Democratic Center (CCD), also struck electoral pacts with Forza Italia. Berlusconi’s television networks propagated the idea that these electoral pacts stood for radical deregulation of the private sector and promised that Berlusconi would use his business skills to create one million jobs within a year. The rival left-wing alliance parties, meanwhile, were portrayed as communists who would snuff out private enterprise and tax the savings of the middle class. These tactics paid off. Less than four months after its foundation, Forza Italia became the most widely supported party in Italy, with 21 percent of the vote. In terms of parliamentarians, however, Forza Italia was underrepresented, with 99 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 32 senators. Forza Italia’s deputies, moreover, were lacking in political experience (only 15 percent had had any political background prior to joining Berlusconi’s movement) and did not provide Berlusconi with a pool of ready ministerial talent. It is a measure of Forza Italia’s artificial nature that Berlusconi, to fill his party’s quota of ministerial appointees in the government that he formed in May 1994, was forced to give top ministerial jobs to individuals from his own corporation and to outside experts, such as Lamberto Dini, who had nothing to do with Forza Italia or with Berlusconi himself. Italians began to call Forza Italia un partito azienda (a company party).Forza Italia has nevertheless remained Italy’s most strongly supported political party. During the 1996 general elections, it slipped to 20.6 percent of the popular vote and briefly lost its primacy, but in every other major national electoral test since 1994 it has emerged as the largest party, obtaining over 30 percent of the national vote in the 1994 European elections and 29 percent in the 2001 general elections. In 2006, Forza Italia scored 23 percent, defying the predictions of commentators who had expected it to fall to under 20 percent again.Forza Italia’s local organization remains lackluster in many parts of Italy. Berlusconi’s trusted associates continue to direct its national operations, and party democracy is limited (it is not imaginable, for instance, that Berlusconi’s leadership could be challenged). Forza Italia, in short, is arguably more like the electoral organization of a U.S. senator than a traditional European mass party.
Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. Mark F. Gilbert & K. Robert Nilsson. 2007.
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